Ahead of his presentation at the IITD's National L&D Conference on December 4th, Roger Schank discusses the merits of transferring knowledge by encouraging inquisitive minds.
By Roger Schank, John Evans Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University & CEO, Socratic Arts
Recall as needed.
Underlying this “truth” (that all the world seems to believe) we have the notion of knowledge. How would you know something if someone didn’t tell it to you? There is truth and you need to know it, so the truth must be told. Knowledge is power. Everything I know I learned from great teachers.
We need to re-think. Philosophers have been talking about knowledge for as long as there have been philosophers. If they really understood the idea they wouldn't be debating it so much and for so long. It is relatively safe to conclude that knowledge is an undefined and amorphous thing.
Let philosophers keep debating. The problem is that educators believe there is knowledge, that it is important for kids to acquire knowledge, and that this can be done by listening and reading and then we can know if the knowledge was acquired by testing the acquirer. Educators believe in “knowledge transfer” and focus on how best to do it.
This is simply wrong and has ruined education for generations of children (and adults). No one much cares about this because the provider of education is usually the government and governments have truth they want children to learn. Just like religions, governments want the truth to be told, but for sinister reasons. In my country everyone “knows” that we will live in greatest country in the world and that we also the most free country in the world. How do they know that? The schools tell them that constantly and they believe it.
Our education model is built on the idea that there is knowledge and that it can be transferred. What happens when we question that assumption?
An interview with Rep Steven King (from Iowa) in the New York Times (Jan 10, 2019) had this quote:
“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr King said: “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
A very good question. Why did he sit in classes that taught that?
If you disagree with what he was taught, this sounds horrible. But, if you agree with it, there seems to be nothing wrong with it — and that is the problem. Knowledge transfer is the same as indoctrination except that when teachers are transferring the Quadratic Formula or Archimedes’ Principle to student’s heads it seems more reasonable. It isn’t reasonable there either.
What is education about then if it isn’t about knowledge transfer?
It should be about learning how to ask questions, and how to find out the answers for yourself when those answers matter to you.
Education should be about inquiry. We want kids to wonder about things. We want adults to not simply accept what they are told. Being intelligent means have an “inquiring mind.”
We have all heard that inquiring minds need to know. But the curious thing is the origin of that phrase. It was an advertising slogan of The National Enquirer, a gossip newspaper. So, apparently we expect people to inquire about movie star’s lives and politician’s love affairs but not about anything that matters.
How to we move from transferring knowledge to promoting inquiry?
We need to move from teaching knowledge to instigating inquiry. A good teacher could do that instead of rambling on and giving tests, but of course the system won’t allow it.